| Not a member? Join for Free |

Copyright FAQ

Copyright FAQ for Teacher-Authors

This FAQ provides general information about using our service and about some legal topics related to Copyright, but it is not a complete discussion of all legal issues that arise in relation to copyright and educational uses nor is it a substitute for legal advice. We are not attorneys, and this is not legal advice.

Ownership Questions

What is copyright and why is copyright important?
What is protected by Copyright?
What is a Creative Commons license?
Who owns the daily Teaching Content I made for my classes, me or the school that I work for?
Who owns the tests I created for my class, me or the school that I work for?
Who owns my students’ work? Do I need their permission to include their work as part of my Teaching Content?
How do I obtain a copyright in my work?

Using Copyrighted Works as Part of My Teaching Content

How do I know if a text I want to include as part of my Teaching Content is copyrighted?
What works can I use for free and without asking permission?
What copyrighted works do I need permission to use?
What if I want to use a passage in my Teaching Content from a novel, like, say, Moby Dick for my students’ English class?
What if I want to use a novel published in 2005?
What is Fair Use?
Can I include a passage from a copyright-protected source without permission (using fair use) if I properly cite it?
But I thought there are special legal rules that allow for teaching and educational uses? Can’t I use anything I want in the classroom without worry?
What if I want to use a good deal of a copyrighted work in my Teaching Content?
How do I properly cite copyrighted passages?

A Few Additional Legal Elements

What do you mean when you say that “Teacher-Authors maintain the intellectual property rights to their original work”?

If I co-write Teaching Content with a colleague, who owns the copyright? How would co-Teacher-Authors create a proper and legal agreement to share in ownership and in royalties?
Can I take Teaching Content written by someone else or another entity, partially or significantly change it, and then sell it as my own?


Ownership Questions

Questions about who owns copyrights in various teaching materials and content drive many of the important copyright-related questions faced by teachers who provide content through TeachersPayTeachers, and users of content purchased through TeachersPayTeachers. These questions address key issues we think you should be thinking about.

What is copyright and why is copyright important?

Copyright is the legal protection given to certain kinds of creative works – poetry, plays, novels, texts, maps, computer programs, art work, movies, to name a few.  Copyright gives the author of the work certain exclusive rights – the right to distribute copies, make new works based on the original work, display the work, perform in public, post on the internet, among others. (See Section 106 of the Copyright Act for a list of the exclusive rights). These rights are balanced by certain uses that do not require permission – fair use, some specific educational uses, etc. After a certain period of time, copyright expires, and the work comes into the public domain. Once in the public domain, anyone is free to use the work without gaining permission from the author/former copyright holder.

The Copyright Office has some very helpful information on basics of copyright law. See www.copyright.gov. In particular, see Circular 1 (PDF) on the Basics of Copyright.


For other helpful sites on the basics of copyright see:


     •    UT Austin’s Copyright Crash Course

     •    Copyright and Fair Use at Stanford University Libraries

     •    The University of Colorado’s “Copyrighting My Work”


What is protected by Copyright?

Your expression is protected, not the facts or ideas within the work. That means that the way you write a particular assignment is protected, but the idea of the assignment or the actual facts used in the assignment are not protected. There is, however, a concept of non-literal copying, which gives additional protection for slight alterations or too-close paraphrasing. The more details that are the same, the more likely it will be considered that someone has infringed on your work.

For more on what is not protected, see the U.S. Copyright Office’s Circular 31 “Ideas, Methods and Systems,” Circular 32 “Blank Forms and other Works not Protected by Copyright,” Circular 34, “Names, Titles, Short Phrases Not Copyrightable”.

What is a Creative Commons license?

A Creative Commons license is a simple legal document attached to the individual works of the Teacher-Authors which let Teacher-Buyers know what they can do with the work. For more on Creative Commons, see http://creativecommons.org/. There is a special Creative Commons area for Education uses:  http://creativecommons.org/education/.

We encourage you to select a Creative Commons license to apply to your Teaching Content, as it lets Teacher-Buyers know what you are allowing them to do with the work with their purchase. You are able to tailor what you will allow, including whether you allow them to create new works based on your work (a derivative work), whether you allow commercial uses of the work, and whether you require your name to be attached to the document.

Who owns the daily Teaching Content I made for my classes, me or the school that I work for?

Traditionally, teachers owned their content (known as the “teacher exception”) rather than the schools or districts where they were employed. That is changing and in flux, and so now intellectual property or copyright policies of the university, school, or school district may decide what materials a teacher owns and what the schools owns. Check your intellectual property policy to make sure. Here are a few basic guidelines and things to look for:

1)    Traditionally, materials teachers made for the classroom (handouts, lectures, etc.) and also any materials written for publication were owned by the teachers. This is still usually the case. Sometimes policies distinguish between materials made in a traditional form (a handout, a monograph) and digital form (a multimedia project).

2)    Many IP policies distinguish between normal use of teaching equipment (the library, one’s desk, photocopying) and more involved uses of school equipment. This is also often accompanied by the idea that if you are specifically assigned to create a website, using the IT staff, for a specific purpose or class, that material you created is likely to be the property of the school.

3)    Basic Rule of thumb to look for in the IP policy:  Does it make a distinction between the materials you create on your own initiative and those specifically assigned to you (create a lesson plan about plants that will then be distributed and be required to be used by the other teachers teaching about plants.)  In that last case, the school probably claims ownership.

4)   A Caveat. If you used works you had previously created about a topic, say plants, and now are just modifying it for the current required task, you probably own the original copyrighted work, and the school owns the second. That means YOU usually can use the original work.


For more on work for hire, see US Copyright Office Circular 9 on Work for Hire (PDF).

For more on ownership and work for hire in a teaching context, see

     •    UT Austin’s “Who Owns What?”

     •    Elizabeth Townsend’s “Legal and Policy Responses to the Disappearing ‘Teacher Exception,’ or Copyright Ownership in the 21st Century University,” 4 Minn. Intell.Prop. Rev. 209 (2003) (PDF)

     •    Laura Gasaway’s "Copyright Ownership & the Impact on Academic Libraries," 13 DePaul-LCA J. Arts& Ent. L. & Pol’y  277 (2003).

Who owns the tests I created for my class, me or the school that I work for?

Sometimes schools claim ownership in tests. But again, look to your institution’s IP policy. Another clue would be how involved the school is in supervising the actual test creations, and whether you are required to include specific topics, whether someone reviews your tests, whether others participate in the collaborative creation, etc. The less autonomy you have, in any activity, the more likely the school, rather than you, the teacher, owns the work.

Also, it is important to note that the expression of the tests is protected, not the facts or ideas behind the test. Also, answer forms (a form for answering True/False) is not usually copyrightable.

Who owns my students’ work? Do I need their permission to include their work as part of my Teaching Content?

Students own their work. If you want to have complete copyright control of a student’s work, you must get written permission to do so. That is, if you want to own the student’s work, you need to have them assign the copyright to you in writing, and if they are a minor, you need written permission from the parent. (Written permission is required even if you want to put the students’ work in the public domain, free for all to use.)   If you want to use the student’s work, but you are willing for them to retain ownership, it would still be wise to get in writing a non-exclusive license to use the work, writing something like “I give Mr. Teach a non-exclusive license to use my plant report.”  Non-exclusive licenses need not be in writing, but in this case, it would be wise if you are planning to now sell portions of that student’s work. And remember, if you are a K-12 teacher, it would be wise to get the parent’s permission to use a student’s work, especially if you plan to use it in a commercial context yourself.

How do I obtain a copyright in my work?

Copyright arises automatically. You do not need to do anything to obtain a copyright in your work. However, it is strongly encouraged that you register your works with the Copyright Office, as you gain additional protections under the Copyright law. It is easy to do and not very expensive.

Go to the Copyright Office for more information. See the Copyright Office’s Circular 1 (PDF) (the “Copyright Registration” section at http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.html#cr). Note, if you are registering your copyright in a multimedia project, see the Circular 55 (PDF).



Using Copyrighted Works as Part of My Teaching Content

Teacher-Authors may want to use quotations, letters, paintings, poems, and other works as part of their Teaching Content. The following FAQs help the Teacher-Author sort out potential copyright questions with regard to using others’ materials as part of the Teaching Content.

How do I know if a text I want to include as part of my Teaching Content is copyrighted?

Whether a work is under copyright can be a tricky thing to determine, but luckily there are a number of really helpful charts available to help out. See Lolly Gasaway’s “When U.S. Works Pass into the Public Domain” and Peter Hirtle’s “Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.”

What works can I use for free and without asking permission?

Public Domain Documents. Public domain works are works not under copyright. These come in a number of forms.

     •    Works published before 1923

     •    Unpublished works of authors who have been deceased since 1935. (Note that this year increases every year, so in 2007, it will be all works of authors deceased since 1936, or life of the author plus seventy-years).

     •    The Project Gutenberg website helps to make the texts of many public domain books available on-line. See http://www.gutenberg.org/.

Government Documents.  Federal government documents are part of the public domain from their inception.

“Podsafe” Documents. Increasingly through Creative Commons and other licensing schemes, “podsafe” media are emerging. These are works that the authors have allowed others to use without restrictions or are less restrictive regarding copyright.

See also Peter Jaszi’s “Yes, You Can! – Where You Don’t Even Need “Fair Use” (PDF) for materials you can use free and clear.

What copyrighted works do I need permission to use?

Unless you are claiming a fair use or specific educational exception (see below), you will need permission for more than a small amount of copyrighted materials used in your Teaching Content.

Here are some examples:

•    What if I want to use a passage in my Teaching Content from a novel, like, say, Moby Dick for my students’ English class?

Moby Dick was published in 1851. All works published before 1923 are in the public domain. Therefore, you are free to use as much of this work as you want. Be careful, however, not to use additional notes or footnotes from specific editions (like Norton editions), as this part is under copyright. Also, cover artwork of more recent editions may be copyright protected.

•    What if I want to use a novel published in 2005?

Any work published after January 1, 1978 carries the copyright term of life of the author plus seventy years, or for corporate works, work for hire, or anonymous works, 95 years from publication, or 120 years from publication. So, if a novel was published in 2005, and its author is still alive, the term of copyright is whenever that author dies plus an additional seventy years.

What is Fair Use?

Fair Use is a concept in the Copyright Act. A “fair use” is copying any protected material (texts, sounds, images, etc.) for a limited and “transformative” purpose, like criticizing, commenting, parodying, news reporting, or teaching the copyrighted work. Under the US copyright laws, fair use “is not an infringement of copyright.” Judges typically consider four factors that are set forth in the Copyright Act. These factors are non-exclusive, so judges are permitted to consider other facts in addition to these. However, in the vast majority of cases, courts limit their analysis to these factors. (You can read more detail about these factors at http://fairuse.stanford.edu/Copyright_and_Fair_Use_Overview/chapter9/9-b.html.The Brennan Center’s excellent public policy report entitled “Will Fair Use Survive?: Free Expression in the Age of Copyright Control” provides a analysis of how fair use has played out in numerous scenarios over recent years: http://www.fepproject.org/policyreports/WillFairUseSurvive.pdf.)

•    the purpose and character of your use (this is sometimes called the “transformative factor”);
•    the nature of the copyrighted work (e.g., is the work highly creative fiction warranting broader protection, or is it highly factual warranting narrower protection?);
•    the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, (as compared both to the underlying work and the work in which the copying is used); and
•    the effect of the use upon the potential market (e.g., did the copyrighted work lose marketshare or potential marketshare?).

In addition, some commentators refer to a “fifth fair use factor” which hinges on good faith -- whether your conduct might be considered “morally offensive.” Judges and juries are human, and their decisions can be swayed by whether they think you are a "good or bad” actor (see http://bgbg.blogspot.com/2005/10/search-or-seizure.html).

Fair use can be fairly tricky to determine. Some helpful resources include:

•    Stanford Copyright and Fair Use
•    UT Austin’s “Fair Use of Copyrighted Materials”
•    “Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use” at the Center for Social Media

Can I include a passage from a copyright-protected source without permission (using fair use) if I properly cite it?

Some authors have the erroneous belief that an acknowledgement will immunize a copyright infringement as “fair use.” This is a myth. Including an acknowledgement may be considered in analyzing the four statutory factors, but it is by no means is a clear defense to a claim of infringement.

Another point of confusion is whether an upfront disclaimer that denies any association between the teacher-author and the copyrighted material can protect the teacher-author from liability. For example, assume your Teaching Content includes a parody of a television show. You include a disclaimer at the beginning of your Teaching Content in which you state: “This Teaching Content is not associated with or endorsed by [name of television production company].” This sort of disclaimer will not, by itself, protect you from a claim of copyright infringement, or act as a clear defense to such a claim. It will, however, be considered among the factors the court considers, and in a very close case, a court may look positively on a clear statement of disassociation.

But I thought there are special legal rules that allow for teaching and educational uses? Can’t I use anything I want in the classroom without worry?

Yes, there are special rules under the copyright laws regarding educational uses. But teachers do not have a blank check to do anything they want.

The U.S. Copyright Act gives special exceptions to requiring permission to use copyrighted works in an educational setting in Section 110 of the Copyright Act. For face-to-face teaching, Section 110(1) allows for the “display” or “public performance” (e.g. reading aloud) of any copyrighted work by students or pupils at a nonprofit educational institution. This means that a teacher at a non-profit institution can show all of the movie “Die Hard” in a class without asking permission (assuming the copy the teacher uses for this purpose is a legally acquired copy).

For the purposes of Teacher-Authors, one way to take advantage of Section110, is to point teachers in the direction of copyrighted works that are connected to the particular Teaching Content, without including the copyrighted work in the assignment or task itself. For example, include pages to consult regarding Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye rather than including them with the Teaching Content. You may even suggest passage to read aloud to the class; just don’t include the three-pages of text as part of your Teaching Content.

If a Teacher-Author wanted to include a small snippet of dialogue from the script in the Teaching Content, s/he might claim that use under fair use.

If a Teacher-Author wanted to make a list of points in the film that are key in understanding a particular concept, that list of scenes would be a permitted use under the Copyright Act.

What if I want to use a good deal of a copyrighted work in my Teaching Content?

With copyrighted materials, you have two choices:  ask permission from the copyright holder to use the copyrighted passages, or rely on fair use. Some good links on how to ask permission from a copyright holder (and how to find the copyright holder) can be found at “Getting Permission,” UT Austin, and “Academic and Educational Permissions” at Copyright and Fair Use at Stanford University Libraries.

How do I properly cite copyrighted passages?

The format depends on your field but generally you should include the author’s name, the title of the work, the publisher, the copyright date, and the page in which the passage comes from (regardless of the format). If the work comes from an internet address, include the address and the date the address was last visited.

If you have asked for permission to use a copyrighted permission, the copyright holder or the estate may request specific information be included.

Used with permission from the Estate of Jane Joy, copyright 1999.


A Few Additional Legal Elements

What do you mean when you say that “Teacher-Authors maintain the intellectual property rights to their original work”?

You have given TeachersPayTeachers.com only the right to a non-exclusive license to distribute your work (see our Terms of Service).You hold all of the rights associated with copyright – the right to copy or reproduce the work, to make derivative works, to distribute copies, to perform the work publicly, and to display the work publicly. You decide what Teacher-Buyers can do with your Teaching Content. We encourage you to use a Creative Commons license, which will allow Teacher-Buyers to know exactly what you allow them to do with your copyrighted work.  We encourage you to give other teachers the right to alter the work to suit their needs (making a derivative work), so they can be flexible on how they use the materials in their own classroom.

If I co-write Teaching Content with a colleague, who owns the copyright?

This depends on your arrangement with your colleague. Absent a formal agreement, you would both be considered co-authors, each having rights to the underlying works. If you co-author materials, you should think in advance about how you and your co-author would like to organize control of the materials. You may even consider seeking some general legal advice on how to arrange your co-authorship of materials. Finally, if you decide to register your materials for copyright with the US Copyright Office, you will have the opportunity to list all co-authors on the registration certificate.

Can I take Teaching Content written by someone else or another entity, partially or significantly change it, and then sell it as my own?

You may only do this if the author of the original work agrees to this. What you are doing is creating a derivative work from the original work– that is, using an original work and then changing it, either partially or significantly. Some of the Teacher-Authors may have agreed to the creation of derivative works with a Creative Commons license attached to their work. Check to see what the restrictions are on the license associated with the work.  Sometimes you are allowed to create a derivative work without permission, but you cannot exploit it in a commercial venue (e.g., a Creative Commons’ “BY-NC” license). Note that this may apply to reselling your new version to TeacherspayTeachers.com. If the Creative Commons license says “NoDerivs” or “No Derivatives” you will need to seek special permission from the author to make derivative works.



_________________________________________________________________________




Copyright FAQ for Teacher-Buyers

This FAQ provides general information about using our service and about some legal topics related to Copyright, but it is not a complete discussion of all legal issues that arise in relation to copyright and educational uses nor is it a substitute for legal advice. We are not attorneys, and this is not legal advice.

What is copyright and why is copyright important?
What is protected by Copyright?
Who owns the Teaching Content I purchase?
What is a Creative Commons license?
What can I do with this work?
    Use it in the classroom?
    Make copies to give to the students?
    Assign it as homework?
    Use it as part of a course packet? 
    Put in on a course website?
    Make a commercial or self-published anthology with Teaching Content?
Can I change the assignment or make a new assignment based on the Teaching Content I bought?
Can I take Teaching Content written by someone else or another entity, partially or significantly change it, and then sell it as my own?
How long can I use the Teaching Content?
Can I use the Teaching Content if I am not a non-profit educational institution?
Can I use Teaching Content if I home school my kid?
Can I use Teaching Content if I am a commercial entity?
Can I use Teaching Content if I am outside of the United States?
What do you mean when you say that “Teacher-Authors maintain the intellectual property rights to their original work”?


What is copyright and why is copyright important?

Copyright is the legal protection given to certain kinds of creative works –poetry, plays, novels, texts, maps, computer programs, art work, movies, to name a few.  Copyright gives the author of the work certain exclusive rights – the right to distribute copies, make new works based on the original work, display the work, perform in public, post on the internet, among others. (See Section 106 of the Copyright Act for a list of the exclusive rights). These rights are balanced by certain uses that do not require permission – fair use, some specific educational uses, etc. After a certain period of time, copyright expires, and the work comes into the public domain. Once in the public domain, anyone is free to use the work without gaining permission from the author/copyright holder.

The Copyright Office has some very helpful information on basics of copyright law. See www.copyright.gov. In particular, see Circular 1 (PDF) on the Basics of Copyright


For other helpful sites on the basics of copyright see: 
   
•    UT Austin’s Copyright Crash Course

•    Copyright and Fair Use at Stanford University Libraries

•    The University of Colorado’s “Copyrighting My Work”


What is protected by Copyright?

Your expression is protected, not the facts or ideas within the work. That means that the way you write a particular assignment is protected, but the idea of the assignment or the actual facts used in the assignment are not protected. There is, however, a concept of non-literal copying, which gives additional protection for slight alterations or too-close paraphrasing. The more details that are the same, the more likely it will be considered that someone has infringed on your work.

For more on what is not protected, see the U.S. Copyright Office’s Circular 31 “Ideas, Methods and Systems,” Circular 32 “Blank Forms and other Works not Protected by Copyright,” Circular 34, “Names, Titles, Short Phrases Not Copyrightable”

Who owns the Teaching Content I purchase?

The Teacher-Author(s) of the Teaching Content retain ownership. Your purchase is the same as if you purchased a book from your local bookstore. That is your copy of the text, but you have no rights to the larger copyright in the book.

What is a Creative Commons license?

A Creative Commons license is a legal document attached to the individual works of the Teacher-Author which lets Teacher-Buyers know what they can do with the work. For more on Creative Commons, see http://creativecommons.org/.  There is a special Creative Commons area for Education uses:  http://creativecommons.org/education/.

As a Teacher-Buyer, you are probably most interested in whether you can alter the work to meet your particular needs (creating what is known as a derivative work). If the Teacher-Author(s) use a Creative Commons license for their works, that license will give you this information. We encourage Teacher-Authors using this service to allow other teachers to make derivative works for their own classroom uses.

What can I do with this work?

    Use it in the classroom?

    Yes!

    Make copies to give to the students?

    Yes!

    Assign it as homework?

    Yes!

    Use it as part of a course packet? 

    Yes!

    Put in on a course website?

   That depends on if the teacher-author has agreed to this. Also, section110(2) of the Copyright Act includes specific rules for distance learning and related issues. It is known as the “TEACH ACT” (Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act) and was signed into law in 2002. If you plan to use the Teaching Content for a distance learning program, or on the internet, you should investigate this area further.

    Give it to another teacher?

   We would prefer that you direct teachers to our website, and encourage them to buy the Teaching Content themselves, as well as encourage them to put their materials on our site as Teacher-Authors.

    Make a commercial or self-published anthology with Teaching Content?

   That depends on what kind of Creative Commons license is attached to the specific text. Some may allow for inclusion in an anthology; others may only allow your own personal use.

Can I change the assignment or make a new assignment based on the Teaching Content I bought?

That depends on what kind of license is attached to the specific text. If the Teacher-Author uses a Creative Commons license, your rights to change the assignment will be clear. Some Creative Commons licenses allow for the creation of derivative works. If this is the case, you are free to adapt it to your needs.

For more on derivative works, see the US Copyright Office, Circular 14 on Derivative Works (PDF)

Can I take Teaching Content written by someone else or another entity, partially or significantly change it, and then sell it as my own?

You may only do this if the author of the original work agrees to this. What you are doing is creating a derivative work from the original work– that is, using an original work and then changing it, either partially or significantly. Some of the Teacher-Authors may have agreed to the creation of derivative works with a Creative Commons license attached to their work. Check to see what the restrictions are on the license associated with the work.  Sometimes you are allowed to create a derivative work without permission, but you cannot exploit it in a commercial venue (e.g., a Creative Commons’ “BY-NC” license). Note that this may apply to reselling your new version toTeacherspayTeachers.com. If the Creative Commons license says “NoDerivs” or “No Derivatives” you will need to seek special permission from the author to make derivative works.

How long can I use the Teaching Content?

Unless the Teacher-Author specifies a time limitation in his or her license associated with the Teaching Content, there is no time restriction on how long you may use the Teaching Content.

Can I use the Teaching Content if I am not a non-profit educational institution?

Yes. We have no restrictions on whether you are a non-profit or for-profit educational institution.

Can I use Teaching Content if I home school my kid?

Yes. We welcome home-schooling parents.

Can I use Teaching Content if I am a commercial entity?

That depends on the individual Teacher-Author, and what they have authorized with regard to the Creative Commons license. Alternatively, you can contact the individual Teacher-Author directly.

Can I use Teaching Content if I am outside of the United States?

Generally, yes. Copyright laws of your country and/or the United States will apply to your use of the Teaching Content. Teacher-Authors may limit the use of their work to a specific region, however we do not encourage that sort of limitation on their work.

What do you mean when you say that “Teacher-Authors maintain the intellectual property rights to their original work”?

Teacher-Authors have given TeachersPayTeachers.com only the right to a non-exclusive license to distribute their work. (We need this to make our service work!) The Teacher-Author holds all of the rights associated with copyright – the right to copy or reproduce the work, to make derivative works, to distribute copies, to perform the work publicly, and to display the work publicly.  The Teacher-Author decides what you can do with their Teaching Content. We encourage Teacher-Authors to use a Creative Commons license, which will allow you to know exactly what you are allowed to do with the Teaching Content.   We encourage Teacher-Authors to give other teachers the right to alter the work to suit their needs (making a derivative work), so you can be flexible on how you use the materials in their own classroom.